Bush fits Bears with or without Forte

Versatile back better than respectable replacement if they need more than complete counterpart

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Perhaps the reason Matt Forte is so sensitive to sharing the meeting room, shower area and backfield with Michael Bush is he knows Bush can be more than just his caddie.

Bush is a fine fit as the Bears' No. 2 running back in part because he is the perfect complement for Forte and in part because he also is ideal insurance.

Let's say Forte suffers a season-ending injury as he did in 2011. Or let's say he holds out for a couple of weeks, then strains a hamstring that nags him for the better part of the season. Or let's say Forte shows up to the team on the eve of the season in full pout, and he's not the same player. Or let's say Forte decides he would rather make a statement than play for $7.742 million as the Bears' franchise player.

Well, the Bears now have a running back who can do what Forte can do.

Bush can't do it as well, mind you. Forte is a superior player and more of a big-play threat. That's indisputable.

And a happy, engaged Forte remains the Bears' best-case scenario.

But if they don't have that, the Bears still should be able to run their offense the same way they would with Forte.

What Bush can do that the other available free agent backs can't is make cutbacks off the Bears' zone blocks. He has unusually quick feet for his size.

Bush also can catch. He started only nine games in 2011 but had more receiving yards than all but nine NFL running backs.

And he can protect quarterback Jay Cutler. In fact, when asked what his strengths were the other day, he listed pass blocking first.

Normally, using a mid-round draft pick on a fresh-legged running back might have made more sense than throwing $14 million over four years at a soon-to-be 28-year-old veteran. But Forte's contract impasse underscores why it makes sense to guarantee Bush $7 million.

If Forte had been content, Bush might not have been necessary. Maybe the Bears could have drafted a bigger back such as Utah State's Robert Turbin or Baylor's Terrance Ganaway and hoped he could have developed quickly. But Forte believes he isn't getting due respect so there's no telling what he may do or how his situation will be resolved.

The Bears undoubtedly did not feel comfortable leaving their season in the hands of a fourth-round rookie back and Kahlil Bell. They wanted a player with a proven track record.

In a perfect world, though, Bush won't be required to replace Forte. He will be required only to balance him and complete the Bears' running game.

With Forte in for one series and Bush the next, defenders would be kept off balance.

And Bush can do some things Forte cannot. At 245 pounds, Bush has more than 25 pounds on Forte. Bush can have the same effect on defenders that a bowling ball has on pins. According to STATS, 54 percent of his 977 rushing yards were gained after contact.

His mass and power also make him an effective short-yardage player. On third and fourth downs with one yard to go last year, Bush converted 68 percent of his 19 chances. Forte, by comparison, converted 40 percent of his five chances.

None of Bush's seven touchdown runs were for more than three yards.

The Bears invested in Bush even though he is 11/2 years older than Forte, which might stick in Forte's craw. But unlike Forte and most comparable backs, Bush has low miles on his odometer.

He sat out most of his last college season and his first NFL season with a broken leg and last season was the first time in his career he had more than 200 carries. Since Bush started playing in 2008, 23 players have more carries.

He has 382 fewer carries than Forte, and 446 fewer than Brandon Jacobs, another big free agent the Bears could have pursued. In this regard, Bush is different from the two previous backups the Bears signed. Bush has 410 fewer carries than Marion Barber did when the Bears signed him and 396 fewer than Chester Taylor did.

The louder and longer Forte complains, the happier the Bears should be to have Michael Bush.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei
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